Herbert London: When Choice Justifies Murder
While the Road to Serfdom is paved with good intentions gone awry; the road to self fulfillment—the dream of the modern person—is constructed with freedom stones resembling personal license. What is emerging in the United States, based in part on the empirical data in Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, is a selective version of morality. If it feels good, do it. The constraints inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition, our genetic inheritance, even our sex, are mere trifles compared to personal choice and desire. To my astonishment, even murder is justified as an act of personal morality.
Francesca Minerva argues that since babies have not formed desires and plans, they may be killed (she calls it “after birth abortion”) if they interfere with the desires and plans of other people who have formed desires and plans, namely their parents and other immediate relatives and also society as a whole. She writes:
“If … an individual is capable of making any aims (like actual human and non-human persons), she is harmed if she is prevented from accomplishing her aims by being killed. Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims, as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our minds on its potential lives. It might start having expectations and develop a minimum level of self-awareness at a very early stage, but not in the first days or few weeks after birth. On the other hand, not only aims but also well-developed plans are concepts that certainly apply to those people (parents, siblings, society) who could be negatively or positively affected by the birth of that child. Therefore, the rights and interests of the actual people involved should represent the prevailing consideration in a decision about abortion and after-birth abortion.”
Here is utilitarianism with a vengeance. It is not a new position since Peter Singer, the Princeton philosopher, made the same claim more than a decade ago. But this blunt justification for murder reverts, in a real sense, to an anachronistic dark period before Jerusalem and Rome when child sacrifice was accepted.
That parents, who have the unconditional obligation to protect an infant, are now given the right to destroy the baby if their plans and desires dictate, is a monstrous reversal of morality and every religious precept. Of course, that is precisely the point. Taboos established by religion must be overturned by the avatars of a new age based on unlimited freedom, even a freedom bordering on license.
Clearly affluence has provided our society with freedom never before entertained. For example, the average secretary has probably seen more of the world than an 18th century king or queen. However, the limits imposed by God or nature are now viewed as impediments to personal desire. If desire is the height of individual attainment, the moral compass offers no direction. We are merely in a sea of roiling water eager to latch on to any life boats.
As a consequence, the mediating institutions in society, the ones that mitigate the tension between the state and the individual—schools, families, churches—have been cast aside in the name personal freedom. Sliding down this slope, the individual hasn’t any buffers; he aims to fulfill desire. In the process, institutions cultivated over millennia are toppled like domino pieces.
Where this will end is now clear: murder of infants is permitted if it stands in the way of freedom, choice, and desire. Welcome to a brave new world that seemingly has more than a passing acquaintance with the dark ages.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books).
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